These are strange times we are living in. Behind the scenes of Phare Ponleu Selpak are slices of life stories, with their ups and downs, but mostly carrying with them the hope of brighter days to come. Listen to Phare voices, round #2! 

“I knew about Phare since I was a little kid and joined as soon as I could, in 2005. It made me feel like this is my second home because everyone loved and cared about me. After I graduated from the Visual Arts school in 2010, I became a freelance visual artist. I love being an artist because I don’t have to work under pressure and I can express my thoughts on society through my artworks. The hardest part is money, especially in Cambodia where the arts scene is not very developed. It’s hard to support myself even though my artworks have been displayed across Cambodia and in France. I’m now studying Graphic Design with Phare for new skills and to earn more money. Beside doing arts, I love being a farmer. Planting trees, raising animals or chicken…. I find peace and happiness in all these activities, especially in these stressful times.”

“Until now I’ve always been a big city person, I’ve lived and worked in Phnom Penh all my life. But I was happy to move hundreds of kilometres to join Phare and try to support the communities in need of help that they work with. I consider it an honour to try and help as a development officer. With the loss of most of its income from circus performances, I have to help Phare reach out more widely to connect with local and international donors. It was actually quite mind-blowing to see what a big family is at Phare when I first attended a monthly meeting, but even more impressive is the history and the staff, the way they dedicate themselves wholeheartedly to serve local people. I am inspired by everyone’s spirit and feel enthusiastic even more to contribute to Phare in my role.”

“I feel lucky. I was born in a family which is not rich but not poor, just average. We have been through a lot. There was violence when we were younger, but things have changed over time. There are no arguments between my parents now, and they give good advice to us kids. I think the circus helped us. Me and my brother Vimean both perform publicly and are able to support the family through our talents. In the future, I wish to build a better house for my family so we can all live together happily. I will be performing in France soon and I am very excited to be back after a long year. Hope to see some of you there!”

“We must fight and keep going together. I really want Phare to survive and keep the Cambodian arts spirit going. Everyone I know is having hard times because of the pandemic, facing big financial worries, some lose their job, some lose their incomes. In my family, we have to think again and again whether we really need to spend money on each thing. But there are good things too. We spend more family time together. And I’ve been able to practice watercolours. Since I started teaching children drawing and digital arts at school, I didn’t have time, but now I can. That’s beautiful. And I remember that before Phare, I was caught in the war, and then was a refugee. Many days I couldn’t eat, but we survived. So I want to say to people don’t be scared. Stay safe and healthy and we can get through this together.”

“I fell in love with Phare when I was 11. I lived nearby and I loved drawing, so I started to come all the time, though my friends teased me. My family was in a bad situation, they couldn’t support me to study so Phare was the only place that helped me get an education and support my family. Coming here made me happier, I learnt about arts, made many friends and got to know many talented people. This is my second home. I don’t want to call myself an artist until I have qualified but I have done mural paintings in café shops and hotels in Siem Reap or Battambang, and had my art shown in galleries. In the future I want to be in animation. But I am worried about my studies and my internship, Covid has threatened them all. I feel so grateful that Phare is trying so hard to stay open. It would be terrible if it closed, it has helped and supported so many young people and kids to have a better life. We have already had to fight to be where we are so now we must keep fighting.”

“I have just restarted my job in Phare after some years of absence and I can see many things have changed positively while I was away. The campus is more clean and green, thanks to the plastic free policy. I think there is a good, positive attitude here. Staff are welcoming. There are challenges ahead, but I feel ready to help restart our shows whenever it becomes possible again. We have been hosting a few workshops recently, but it is not sufficient income to sustain our activities. Based on our estimations it can take up to 2 years to resume international tourism in Cambodia, so we cannot wait to work on a new development strategy. I would like to attract a local audience, with new things awaiting them on our campus.”

“I felt so grateful to come back and play music here at the Battambang big top where my dreams began. I came to Phare as a child in 2001 and tried learning a few creative things, including circus skills and classical music. I was most passionate about classical music. It was perhaps in my blood, because the teacher was my father, Ly Vanthet – though he never treated me differently from others. I loved working with older Cambodian musicians at this recent event in Phare. I actually first worked with them a year ago, and at first they were suspicious of me because I am a new generation with a new style. But they soon saw my talent. This time, they accepted me right away, and we were all soon playing and creating together. After this I went straight back to Siem Reap to play as part of the Phare circus, I am so happy to perform again.”

“We just celebrated my 15th year working for Phare, but it felt strange. The pandemic has caused so many problems, especially financially. I’ve never seen Phare Ponleu Selpak at risk like this, not in my whole 15 years. And if Phare is at risk then the community is at risk, since we do so much to support the community through the arts, education and social work. However, I won’t stop fighting since I have so many special memories of Phare and the community over all that time, I won’t give up, I want to see the children and the staff here grow together. My message to the world is we must unite, this is a worldwide pandemic. Su Su!! (Fighting on!!)”

“Since we resumed weekend shows in Siem Reap this summer, our online “Invite a Family” campaign has been absolutely essential to keep them going until international tourism returns. Cambodian families invited have been enjoying dinner together, watching Shadow Puppet theater, kids learning juggling from Phare Circus artists and then catching version 2 of Phare Circus Rising show… Good energy has been palpable, with families happy to be out together, artists happy to be entertaining guests, chefs happy to be presenting their street food creations. This is what it’s all about, and people’s online support made it possible. I am thankful for that!”

Help more students in Battambang: Make a financial contribution to Phare Ponleu Selpak and empower youth to face tomorrow’s challenges.